How Can Apartments Tell if You Smoke?


For a majority of landlords, smoking within their property is strictly forbidden. You probably have it in your tenancy agreement that smoking is not allowed in the unit, and even though you can smoke outdoors, you are often required to do it a certain amount of feet from the apartment building door. However, this doesn’t always stop some tenants from breaking the rules and smoking indoors.

How can apartments tell if you smoke? Some common signs that you smoke in an apartment include:

1. The odor – Both cigarette and marijuana smoke lingers, even when you try to hide. Someone can tell which room you’ve been smoking in by smelling your curtains, couches, carpet, or rugs.

2. Stains – Cigarettes and marijuana can also leave behind stains on walls as well as on surfaces such as counters, light fixtures, and curtains. These stains may take the form of small patches, or cover the majority of a wall, especially if smoking is a common occurrence.

3. Burns – It’s almost impossible to conceal a burn left behind from a cigarette or joint. A landlord or property manager may look for burn marks on furniture or carpets if they suspect you’re smoking in the property.

4. Cigarette butts and marijuana joints – You may leave behind cigarette butts or leftover joints in one particular area.

5. Residue – Ash and residue may also be left from smoking.

6. Coloring left behind – Tobacco and marijuana smoke can leave yellow and brown colorings on your walls.

In addition to being dangerous, indoor smoking can also cause considerable damage to the property. Read on to discover how a landlord/property manager can tell that you’ve been smoking indoors and what they can do about it.

Signs that prove you smoke in an apartment

1. There’s a cigarette and/or marijuana smoke smell lingering in your unit

Cigarette and marijuana smoke tends to linger for quite a bit of time, even if you attempt to cover it up using things like scented candles, plug-in diffusers, air fresheners, incense, or simply opening all windows and doors to try and get rid of the stench. A landlord/property manager may be able to tell that you’ve been smoking in their property if they smell something to smoke or any of the aforementioned products are overused.

The pungent smell of smoke, whether it’s from a joint or cigarette, tends to stick to items like clothing and furniture. Someone can tell which room you’ve been smoking in by smelling things like curtains, rugs, carpet, or couches. The smell of smoke even clings on the walls, floors, and ceiling, and is incredibly hard to get rid of.

2. There are stains in areas of the apartment where you smoke

In addition to a tell-tale stench, cigarettes and marijuana can also leave behind unsightly stains, which can be seen on walls and areas such as curtains, counters, light fixtures, and lamps. Depending on how the smoking has been taking place, the stains will likely range in color from yellow to brown. Sometimes the stains may manifest themselves as small patches, while other times they may take up the majority of the wall.

Smoke stains are easy to spot on wallpaper or paintwork, even if the walls have recently been repainted. Repainting your walls, with or without your landlord’s permission, could indicate that you’re trying to cover up marijuana or cigarette stains. Nicotine in particular is difficult to cover up as it tends to sweat through paint, so paint jobs won’t last long.

3. The presence of burn marks

Another clear indication of smoking that you may have a hard time concealing is burn marks left from a cigarette or joint. There may be brown-rimmed burn holes in curtains, carpets, linens, and soft furnishings. Burn marks may also be left on not-so-obvious areas like sinks and toilet seats. Attempts at concealment such as strategically placed ornaments or cushions, rugs, or rearranged furniture can easily give away your intention to hide burn marks.

4. The presence of cigarette butts and/or marijuana joints

You may leave behind a significant amount of cigarette butts or leftover joints in a particular area. While some landlords/property managers may permit smoking outside, saving butts and joint ends and disposing of them outside to make it look like you’ve been smoking outdoors may raise suspicion.

It may also not help if you leave ashtrays that your landlord/property manager may come across during routine inspections lying around. A quick look at makeshift ashtrays such as mugs, plates, cups, or bowls can indicate that you’ve been smoking on the property.

5. Presence of ash 

Another sign that landlords/property managers may use as evidence of smoking is the presence of ash and residue. You may forget to clear away ash on shelves, under photos, on a window sill, or even on electrical appliances. Ash is hard to get rid of and can easily make its way onto multiple surfaces, making it easier for someone to tell that you’ve been smoking.

6. Coloring left behind on walls and door frames

You may have heard that tobacco and marijuana smoke can leave behind color on your walls, but you want to keep an eye out for yellow-brown dots around doorframes in particular. You may attempt to smoke in the bathroom with the extractor fan running, or hanging out the window to try and limit the chances of any signs being left behind, but considering the condensation caused in a bathroom, stains are likely to become clear. The same goes for the kitchen.

Do you have a right to smoke in your rental unit?

There’s no law, either federal or state that provides you with the freedom to smoke whenever and wherever you want. Similarly, bans on smoking are not considered to be discriminatory. On the flip side, states, cities, and the federal government can put in place stipulations that restrict all types of smoking. That said, the laws on how, what, and where you can smoke tend to vary.

What are the federal smoking laws?

The federal government can regulate any smoked substances, including tobacco and marijuana.

  • Tobacco

The federal government doesn’t place restrictions on the use of tobacco in private rentals, but it does restrict it in public housing.

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires all public housing agencies (PHAs) to prohibit the use of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes but leaves it up to PHAs to decide whether or not to ban e-cigarettes.

  • Marijuana

Under federal law, the usage and possession of marijuana is illegal. This means that even using it in the confines of your rental unit leaves you vulnerable to the possibility of being charged with a federal crime.

What are the state and local laws on smoking?

States and cities can pass ordinances that restrict or ban smoking in rental properties. Many states and cities in the United States limit or prohibit smoking in or around multi-unit dwellings because smoke travels easily across shared spaces. Some states or cities even go as far as prohibiting smoking in all rental properties, including single-family homes.

If marijuana is yet to be legalized in your state, local and state anti-smoking laws apply. On the other hand, if marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes, refer to relevant ordinances or statutes for guidance.

Do landlords have the right to restrict smoking?

Even when there’s no definitive anti-smoking law in place, landlords can prohibit or limit smoking anywhere on their rental property, including individual units. In addition to health problems that come about as a result of secondhand smoking, landlords often choose to prohibit smoking to avoid stains and odors, limit fire hazards on the premises, and reduce fire insurance premiums. Another reason why landlords might prohibit smoking is to avoid lawsuits from non-smoking tenants. 

Landlords will inform tenants of a no-smoking policy or any smoking restrictions through a clause in the lease or rental agreement. In most cases, such clauses apply to smoking of any kind, not just tobacco, but if the stipulations are not clear, ask your landlord before signing any agreement. Nonetheless, even if it’s not specified on your lease or rental agreement, you should look up any state and local smoking laws, as they might apply to your area regardless of the stipulations in your lease.

Can a landlord evict you for smoking?

If a landlord has a clear no-smoking policy in a lease or rental agreement, they can evict a tenant who smokes. When the no-smoking policy is included in the rental’s rules and regulations (but not included in the lease or rental agreement), the landlord might only have the authority to terminate the tenancy or evict if the occupant repeatedly violates the regulations. Landlords may also be able to evict or end a tenancy based on a lease agreement’s “illegal activity” clause.

Final thoughts

Because of all the obvious signs that smoking leaves behind, it’s best to find out the smoking policies of a property before signing a lease or rental agreement. If a landlord/property manager tells you that smoking is allowed in your unit, make sure you get that statement in writing. Otherwise, steer clear of leases or rental agreements if you know you’re going to violate the no-smoking policy.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author. She enjoys traveling, reading and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC. Connect with her at [email protected]

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